Food & Drink

Got game? Reds bring out best in winter dishes

Winter is the season for big, rich, red wines that provide warmth and flavor, and reds pair nicely with the season’s hearty dishes. Those big, tannic Syrahs, Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons that are over the top in the heat of a Carolina summer are lovely with stews and other hearty winter dishes.

There are a few wines, though, that might not be on your short list for winter but can make a meal something special. These wines need to be paired with food to show how tasty they are. Find a friendly local wine shop to suggest a few bottles that are in your price range and are good examples in these categories:



Produced from a blend of grapes but mostly Sangiovese, these are particularly good with pasta. Pair a good Chianti with pasta and homemade Bolognese sauce, and you won’t want to leave the house until the leftovers run out.


Southern Rhone blends:

They typically have a variety of red grapes in the blend, including Grenache and Syrah. There is something about these wines that goes extremely well with earthy dishes. Quite possibly the best pairing I have ever had was this style of wine with mushroom risotto. In an effort to re-create that, I’ve tried a number of recipes, and all work well, including vegetarian and vegan versions. Risotto takes concentration to make and you can’t turn your back on it, so reward yourself with a a glass while you’re cooking it. Wines from this region drink well before dinner, too.


Petit Sirah:

There’s nothing petite about this wine from California, also known as the so-dark-it-stains-your-teeth wine. It’s a natural with braised meats. Try this big wine with short ribs or osso bucco and revel in the over-the-top richness.



Classic Spanish wines produced from the Tempranillo grape often have an earthy, tart-cherry rustic quality that is most attractive with food. In a recent barbecue cook-off with friends, we chose Rioja (particularly the young styles called Crianza) over dozens of other wine styles. It works with any type of barbecue, from sweet to smoky.



This is a wine made from a South African grape that I have had to learn to love. My mistake was trying it alone. What Pinotage really needs is food, and when the food is right, it sings. Its herbal and black-fruit flavors work best with something a little gamey. Try it with venison or lamb stew, flavored with a little sage or thyme, for a rich, tasty pairing.

Aside from these suggestions, just about any red you love will complement, and enhance, hearty winter dishes. Robust food tames some of the mouth-drying tannins in these wines.

Maybe we’ll have a snow day soon when we get to simmer something fabulous all day and we can open a nice bottle to go with it.